ALAMEDA -- The federal government has filed a lawsuit against the state of California and the East Bay Regional Park District in order to use eminent domain to secure McKay Avenue, the street leading to the Crab Cove Visitor Center that borders the site where a developer wants to build homes.

The lawsuit, which was filed April 17, follows federal representatives putting state officials on notice earlier this year that they believed developer Tim Lewis legitimately acquired the surplus federal property through an open auction and that McKay Avenue needs to be upgraded.

The approximately 1.4-acre street, which links Central Avenue with Crab Cove, needs to be acquired for the continual operation of the Alameda Federal Center at 650 Central Ave., as well as for "other related purposes of the government such as a sale of a portion of the property," according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California.

The move by the developer to build homes on the approximately four acres of surplus federal property, which it acquired through a General Services Administration auction, has triggered community opposition, as well as a lawsuit by the park district over the city of Alameda's decision to rezone the neighborhood as residential.

Known as Neptune Pointe, the property is located along McKay Avenue and west of Robert Crown Memorial State Beach. Park district officials want the property to expand Crab Cove and the beach.

The neighborhood was one of several where the Alameda City Council adopted zoning changes to meet the city's affordable housing and other residential needs.

In their lawsuit, park district representatives contend the council did not provide proper notice about switching the zoning from administrative and office use to multifamily residential, and that the council approved the change without a completed Environmental Impact Report.

Alameda officials maintain the lawsuit is an attempt to reverse the auction outcome. State Attorney General Kamala Harris's office has called on federal authorities to revisit selling the property near Crab Cove.

"We are extraordinarily troubled by GSA's intent to take public land for a private developer's benefit," John Devine from Harris' office wrote in a Nov. 7 letter to the Justice Department

But the department's Andrew Goldfrank said the park district was given enough notice about the June 2011 auction.

In a March 11 letter to Harris's office, Goldfrank noted the GSA conveyed the street to the state in 1961 so it could be used for the park and that federal authorities have recently spent more than $1.5 million to upgrade the Alameda Federal Center.

"However, the shared infrastructure underlying McKay Avenue has not been modernized and the roadway has not been maintained, leading to ongoing problems," he said.

The purchaser of the surplus property would be required to modernize the roadway and utilities as part of any future development, Goldfrank said. A citizens group is campaigning to place a ballot measure before Alameda voters that would designate the area as open space.

Contact Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654. Follow him at Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.

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